New Facebook in China

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Facebook is collaborating with Baidu, the Chinese search engine, to launch a new social networking site in China. To be allowed in the country, the site should have censor-friendly options. Facebook is said to  have accepted the requirements of the government’s censorship in order to launch the site in China, because this market is potentially profitable for the company.

All the users will have access to the new site, but their stored private data will be made available to the government. “When Facebook users outside China connect with users inside the country, sources say they will need to click through a warning message stating that any material visible to Chinese users may also be visible to the Chinese government,” – All Things Digital reports. Facebook also might be using input and display filters that will not allow Chinese users to see and post things that contradict the government’s policies.

The creation of the site seems like a weak compromise between the company and  the Chinese government. After  the demonstrations in Egypt and Libya, Facebook became a place for free speech and personal liberties. If the new site is censored, it will be a step toward the limitation of increased internet freedom.

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Freedom on the Net 2011

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Recently, Freedom House has released its report Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. The report contains information about internet freedom in 37 countries. It says that the violation of users’ rights has increased and has become more varied during the last few years. Among the main threats to online freedom are the cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship and government control over internet infrastructure.

Bans against access, restrictions on content and users’ rights violations were the major points of evaluation regarding internet freedom  in the countries studied. In accordance with the report, Estonia has the highest level of internet freedom. The United States are on second place and Iran is last. Eleven other countries are evaluated as "Not Free", among them Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. There are also plans to restrict the internet freedom during the next twelve months in countries  such as Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The situation is very difficult in the countries where internet is under the total control of the governments. Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report, claimed that “the ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world. A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media”.

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Will Russia Extend its Web Censorship?

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Russia is going to create its own web laws and wants the other countries to share their experience of regulating the use of Internet. The Russian government will analyse the best examples of web regulation in other countries before drafting the new legislation.

Recently, the Russian Federal Security Service asked for access to communication services such as Skype and Gmail. The agency claimed that the "uncontrolled use of these services could lead to a large-scale threat to Russian security".

Russian internet users are afraid of the government extending web censorship. They also worry about protecting their internet privacy once the new laws are passed. These concerns became stronger after hacker attacks on the LiveJournal blogging site that led to a close down of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's blog during more than one hour.

However, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin understated the danger of web censorship. He claimed that "the Internet is a tool for solving social and administrative problems; it is an opportunity to communicate, to express yourself, it is a tool for improving your living standards" and expressed his opinion that "it is not possible to restrict anything."

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Freedom House’s Review of Censorship Circumvention Tools

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Freedom House, the human rights organization, has recently released the report titled “Leaping Over the Firewall: A Review of Censorship Circumvention Tools.” This report describes in detail the most effective tools for bypassing online censorship in Azerbaijan, Burma, China and Iran. It also outlines the advantages and disadvantages of every tool.

As it is known, the governments of the countries mentioned above took control of all citizens' online activities. Freedom House, established by the United States, does not stay indifferent to the internet censorship at these overseas countries. Robert Guerra, Project Director of Freedom House’s Internet Freedom program, claims: “As repressive governments become increasingly savvy in their ability to filter and censor online content, these tools, which allow users to exercise their fundamental rights to free expression and privacy online, have become essential.”  The described censorship circumvention tools are recommended to unblock websites and bypass restrictions on the internet. Therefore, Freedom House thinks this report will help to protect free expression online.

But the report has not only got positive opinions about it. “I have concerns about this report’s methodologies and resulting conclusions. The report in its current form could be dangerous to the users it aims to help,” says Jacob Appelbaum in this article published on Global Voices Advocacy web site

The author attacks the report and concludes at the end: “From performance to security, the report presents mistake after mistake. The core of the review is non-technical in nature and yet the entire circumvention landscape is quite technical.” To make the tools review more objective, the author recommends to rate the tools based on:

•    availability,
•    whether the tool requires administrative privileges,
•    validated security claims,
web anonymity,
•    design and implementation details available for peer review,
•    centralization or de-centralization,
•    and other qualities

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